Raw Shark Texts (Hall)

The Raw Shark Texts
Steven Hall, 2007
428 pp.
ISBN-13: 9781847671745

Eric Sanderson wakes up in a house one day with no idea who or where he is. Instructed by a mysterious note to visit a Dr. Randle, Eric learns that the agony of losing the love of his life in a scuba-diving accident three years before has destroyed his memory.

But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric begins to examine letters and papers left in the house by “the first Eric Sanderson,” a staggeringly different explanation for what is happening to Eric emerges, and he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and escape the remorseless predatory forces that threatens to devour him.

The Raw Shark Texts is a kaleidoscopic novel about the magnitude of love and the devastating effect of losing that love. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Derbyshire, England, UK
Education—Sheffield Hallum University
Currently—lives in Hull, England

Steven Hall was born in Derbyshire, England, in 1975. After completing a fine arts degree at Sheffield Hallum University, he became one of the founding members of Manchester's WetNana and has produced a number of plays, music videos, conceptual art pieces and short stories. His "Stories for a Phone Book" appeared in New Writing 13 (2005). The Raw Shark Texts is his first novel. (From the publisher.)

Book Reviews
The Raw Shark Texts, the first novel by the British writer Steven Hall, which will be published in the U.S. this month, revolves around "conceptual" sharks who track down humans and devour their memories, a horror-dystopic-philosophical mash-up that has critics drawing comparisons to Borges, The Matrix and Jaws.
Tom Shone - New York Times Magazine

How all this will read in 20 years, or even two, is hard to say, although one suspects that what seemed so vertiginously modern will ultimately seem like so much cyber-age psychedelia — as depthless and woozy as paisley-patterned shirts. Hollywood, needless to say, has taken the bait; the book was a big hit at the most recent London book fair, and the movie rights were fiercely contested and finally sold for a sum in the mid- to high six figures. But I would advise producers to tread cautiously: we could be in for a replay of The Beach, by Alex Garland. Novels so in hock to the movies have a habit of evaporating by the time they get to the screen.
Tom Shone - New York Times Book Review

It's all a lot of fun, yet there is also a surprising emotional resonance in seeing Second Eric, like Beckett's Krapp with his tapes, reading and rereading First Eric's journals as he obsesses over the experiences that the Ludovician has chomped out of his head. And to hear Second Eric's voice take on the snap of his predecessor's is especially satisfying.
Tyler Knox - Washington Post

Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts is a psychological thriller with shades of Memento and The Matrix and the fiction of Mark Danielewski; page-turning, playful and chilling by turns, it explores the construction of identity through the adventures of an amnesiac who is guided by letters from his former self and menaced by a conceptual shark. —Justine Jordan

The book justifies the hype.... An innovative, postmodern, metafictional novel.... The most original reading experience of the year.... A literary novel that's more out there than most science fiction.... Genuinely isn't like anything you have ever read before, and could be as big an inspiration to the next generation of writers as Auster and Murakami have been to Hall.—Matt Thorne

An avant-garde thriller in which these devil-fish of the unconscious somehow escape the symbolic realm, or rather, we join them on their side of the border....Ian is a splendid character: a self-important misanthropist, invariably with 'thundery disgust and disappointment all over his big flat ginger face.' . . . The novel's great virtue is its structure.... Information is released in pieces, like time-release drugs in a capsule, their order derived from the progressive revelation of truths rather than the forward march of events....The Raw Shark Texts unfolds not in sleek cyberspace, but inside the post-Freudian human self, with its layers, its pungent humours, its debris left over from construction, and its monsters of the deep....Jaws meets Alice in Wonderland. —Sarah Bakewell
Times Literary Supplement (London)

Readers who are prepared to tolerate (or be amused by) a few typographical gimmicks and manipulations, as well as an engaging story, are in for a treat.

Hall's debut, the darling of last year's London Book Fair, is a cerebral page-turner that pits corporeal man against metaphysical sharks that devour memory and essence, not flesh and blood. When Eric Sanderson wakes from a lengthy unconsciousness, he has no memory. A letter from "The First Eric Sanderson" directs him to psychologist Dr. Randle, who tells Eric he is afflicted with a "dissociative condition." Eric learns about his former life—specifically a glorious romance with girlfriend Clio Aames, who drowned three years earlier—and is soon on the run from the Ludovician, a "species of purely conceptual fish" that "feeds on human memories and the intrinsic sense of self." Once he hooks up with Scout, a young woman on the run from her own metaphysical predator, the two trek through a subterranean labyrinth made of telephone directories (masses of words offer protection, as do Dictaphone recordings), decode encrypted communications and encounter a series of strange characters on the way to the big-bang showdown with the beast. Though Hall's prose is flabby and the plethora of text-based sight gags don't always work (a 50-page flipbook of a swimming shark, for instance), the end result is a fast-moving cyberpunk mashup of Jaws, Memento and sappy romance that's destined for the big screen.
Publishers Weekly

Discussion Questions
Use our LitLovers Book Club Resources; they can help with discussions for any book:

How to Discuss a Book (helpful discussion tips)
Generic Discussion Questions—Fiction and Nonfiction
Read-Think-Talk (a guided reading chart)

Also consider these LitLovers talking points to help get a discussion started for The Raw Shark Texts:

1. In an interview Hall claims that Eric's story and the shark's story are "actually very much the same thing." What do you think he means?

2. Hall has also said...

The brains of the book are a little further under the surface, there's a lot which isn't spelled out.... If readers want to see the book as just a fast adventure thriller, then that's fine.... But if they want more than that, then the whole book is riddled with clues, tricks and traps, references and readings—so if you know things about Zen (for example), then the avenues you could spot could be different from those you might spot if you have a grasp of Many Worlds Theory....

Were there "avenues" in the book that you found you could explore? Did you find references that made reading Raw Shark a richer experience for you?

3. What is your understanding of the Un-Space Exploration Committee? What is un-space, how and where does it exist or operate?

4. Is Second Eric and same individual as First Eric? The question has a lot to do with identity, memory, and concsciousness. Without memory of our past lives, how do we determine who we are?

5. Eric is our narrator, telling us what he believes is happening to him. Is he reliable? Is he sane or mentally unstable (as one might gather from the second part of the light bulb fragment)? In other words is the conceptual world real—or is Eric delusional?

6. Do you get the play on words with Mycroft Ward—who wants to take over the world? How is he different than the Ludovician?

7. Discuss the different fragments and how they function in the novel. How do they help further the story?

8. Talk about the killing off of the Ludovician, the conceptual sea and boat, and throwing a laptop hooked up to the Mycroft Ward database into the mouth of the shark. Is there some sort of metaphorical significance (other than being diabolically funny)? What do you make of it?

9. Talk about the book's ending? Why does Eric make the choice he does? Is he dead...or still alive? Are Clio and Scout the same person?

10. Raw Shark has been compared to The Matrix and to Memento, even to Alice in Wonderland. If you know those films and book do you see any parallels? Are there parallels to other works you can think of?

(Questions by LitLovers. Please feel free to use them, online or off, with attribution. Thanks.)

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